Pilot in fatal Kittitas plane crash was local surgeon, civil rights pioneer

Dr. Frank L. Smith (Photo credit: Kittitas Valley Healthcare)

ELLENSBURG, Wash. - The pilot who died Thursday in a plane crash in Kittitas County has been identified as a surgeon and former civil rights activist, Dr. Frank L. Smith, 75, who practiced at an Ellensburg hospital, sheriff's officials said Friday.

Officials say Smith took off from Bowers Field in Ellensburg before 5 p.m. Thursday in a twin engine Piper PA-23-250 Aztec airplane. He crashed a few minutes after take-off. He was the sole occupant of the aircraft. It's believed his destination was Yakima.

The cause of the crash is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration. An autopsy will be performed as part of the investigation.

Dr. Smith was affiliated with Kittitas Valley Healthcare, where he performed general surgery.

A biography on the hospital's website says Dr. Smith was "as comfortable in worn jeans laying irrigation pipe in his cherry orchard as he is in scrubs in the KVH hospital operating room."

The great grandson of a slave, he was raised by his mother and grandmother, became a civil rights activist in college, met Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Rosa Parks. He participated in the march from Selma and the March on Washington in 1963.

He was graduated from Harvard Medical School before his residency at Peter Brent Brigham Hospital in Boston.

He later served in the Air Force, and had a fascination with flying. He once said he preferred working at a hospital in a rural area.

"It’s the people you meet, and the tranquility," Dr. Smith said.

Kittitas County Undersheriff Myers expressed, on behalf of the Sheriff's Office, "that our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot's family, friends and the aviation community for their loss."

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